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Bilingualism and Academic Achievement


  • The author thanks Kimber Bogard for valuable feedback during the stage of developing this work, and the participants at the “Immigrant Paradox in Education and Behavior: Is Becoming American a Developmental Risk” conference held at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island on March 6 and 7, 2009, as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful and constructive comments. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Foundation for Child Development PK-3 Initiative and Columbia University Diversity Research Fellowship.

concerning this article should be addressed to Wen-Jui Han, New York University Silver School of Social Work, 1 Washington Square North, New York, NY 10003. Electronic mail may be sent to


Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort, this study examines the role that bilingualism plays in children’s academic developmental trajectories during their early school years, with particular attention on the school environment (= 16,380). Growth-curve results showed that despite starting with lower math scores in kindergarten, Mixed Bilingual children fully closed the math gap with their White English Monolingual peers by fifth grade. However, because non-English-Dominant Bilinguals and non-English Monolinguals started kindergarten with significantly lower reading and math scores compared to their English Monolingual peers, by fifth grade the former groups still had significantly lower scores. School-level factors explained about one third of the reductions in the differences in children’s academic performance.